By Amy Walker, PEO C3TJune 24, 2015
FORT BLISS, Texas (June 24, 2015) --Currently, the Army's operations, intelligence, logistics and medical communities each use separate communications networks to pass information across the battlefield, but less is more when it comes to redundant networks.
The Army is working to integrate these disparate networks onto its tactical communication network, Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T). The move will gain significant efficiencies in cost and bandwidth and help reduce footprint for a more expeditionary force.
In support of this effort, a new network stack, the Modular Communications Node - Advanced Enclave (MCN-AE), now enables intelligence users to connect into the WIN-T network. The enclave will enable the Army to begin converging disparate networks, beginning with the intelligence community, onto WIN-T.
"What does MCN-AE bring to operations? Consolidated transport," said CW2 John Millsap, brigade cyber defense technician for 2nd Brigade Combat Team (BCT), 1st Armored Division (2/1 AD), the operational unit for the Army's Network Integration Evaluations (NIEs). "MCN-AE provides one source access and transfers the management of other networks to WIN-T Network Operations and its trained personnel, so the network is easier to maintain. It also reduces the footprint of the TOC [tactical operations center] so it is easier to move from point A to point B."
During NIE 15.2 at Fort Bliss, Texas, in May, the Army conducted a network transport convergence demonstration leveraging MCN-AE and other WIN-T network upgrades. Assessments were conducted to validate the ability to pass intelligence information over the WIN-T network and to verify roles and responsibilities between communication officers (S6s) and intelligence officers (S2s). MCN-AE is scheduled to undergo further evaluation during NIE 16.1 this fall in support of an initial fielding decision. Following NIE 16.1, the Army plans to conduct a custom theater evaluation.
MCN-AE enables the Army to replace the tactical elements of the intelligence network's Trojan Special Purpose Integrated Remote Intelligence Terminal (SPIRIT) system, a large truck and trailer, with two carry on cases, cutting down on footprint. It also eliminates the need to transport the Trojan network elements via aircraft to the battlefield or to have them as part of a convoy during maneuver, said Lt. Col. Joel Babbitt, product manager for WIN-T Increment 1, which manages the MCN-AE project.
"The system reduces size, weight and power (SWaP) requirements for a more expeditionary force while increasing a unit's operational flexibility," Babbitt said.
Intelligence users in the field can now simply plug into the MCN-AE enclave and, through the unit's high-bandwidth WIN-T "pipe," connect to all the same resources they had using the Trojan intelligence network. It can be used with both WIN-T Increment 1, which operates at the halt, or the mobile WIN-T Increment 2 network. It reduces the need for Trojan SPIRIT terminals to be co-located with WIN-T terminals. Additionally, by leveraging the Army-owned WIN-T Regional Hub Nodes, it also reduces reliance on the expensive commercial hubs utilized by the Trojan network.
The Army's transport convergence efforts will not eliminate the requirements for the Trojan Network completely, since there could still be occasions when intelligence units would need to go out into the battlefield separately from WIN-T assets.
Intelligence systems, such as the Distributed Common Ground System - Army, have shown the Army that the ability of the commander to see the enemy clearly makes a huge difference in how he fights. Instead of just fighting the current fight in front of him, he is already shaping the fight further out. In order to do that he has to have information and situational awareness, once only provided by the Trojan network, but now which can also be provided through MCN-AE, said Lt. Col. Stephen Dail, brigade S6 for 2/1 AD.
"Not only does MCN-AE decrease SWaP and speeds up our ability to jump the TOC, it also makes it easier to maintain and keep up the network," Dail said. "Now I don't have to trouble shoot two different systems, so it absolutely reduces complexity and speeds up movement."
The Army plans to conduct its transport convergence efforts in a deliberate phased approach. Phase one, which is currently in progress, migrates the communications provided by the intelligence Trojan network onto the tactical operations WIN-T network. Phase two will integrate the medical community's Joint Telemedicine Network onto WIN-T, and phase three will integrate the logistics Combat Service Support - Very Small Aperture Terminal onto WIN-T. The Army is still in the planning stages for phases two and three, but the ultimate end state would have operations, intelligence, medical and logistics information all on a common network architecture.
"In today's operations, information is power, but delivering that information also comes with the responsibilities of interoperability, security and cost effectiveness," said Col. Edward Swanson, project manager for WIN-T. "As we continue to modernize the network, converging network transport capabilities will help ensure tactical information is delivered in the most efficient way possible, securely and reliably."